Two years ago, a global pandemic stopped the world and upended nearly every facet of life. Pre-pandemic, work was a physical space for most people for at least some of the work week. A lot of companies did not offer remote work. Within a few days, they didn’t have much of a choice; they had to allow flexibility. Within a month, health and safety risks made the idea of going to an office incomprehensible.
Two years into COVID, this is the State of Human Connection at Work.
These two years have seen extreme levels of stress, uncertainty, burnout, and turnover. For many employees, they saw the benefits of more flexibility; and now, hybrid and remote work are here to stay. But there is an equally strong contingent of employees who want or must go back to the office. This has led to the experience of work splitting into two distinct categories: 2D and 3D.
For 2D work, you can work out of the comfort of your home office on a screen, collaborating on video calls and in constant virtual connection with your colleagues. For 3D work, you interact with people and materials in real time. The place you conduct business likely hasn’t changed, but additional health and safety measures have certainly become the norm.
The challenge for companies moving forward is ensuring the employee experience and connection is felt the same by employees regardless of where they’re working from.
Here are some of the notable findings from the report:
- Hybrid work is firmly entrenched: Most industries of those surveyed have at least 25% of their workforce working remote or hybrid. While no industry surveyed has a majority of fully remote workers, at least 70% are hybrid in banking and finance; software and services; government and nonprofit; and business and professional services. As the ways we work get more flexible, so too should company efforts to connect its employees.
- There is a 2D/3D divide: Compared to on-site workers, fully remote workers were less likely to say they feel confident and more likely to feel uneasy about change. Fifty-two percent of hybrid workers and 44% of remote workers said they feel obligated to work while sick when working remotely. And 39% of hybrid and 29% of remote workers agree with the statement: “When I work from home, I don’t receive as much recognition as my on-site colleagues.”
- Workers are still looking for new jobs: More than one-third of workers (36%) said they plan to look for a new job in the next 12 months. Job seeking is down two percentage points from our June 2021 survey, but still higher than a December 2019 survey where only 21% were job seekers. The number is significantly higher in Ireland, where 47% of workers have one foot out the door. Millennials (aged 25-40) are more likely than any other generation to look for a new job this year (47%).
- Working parents are still stressed: As was the case a year ago, working parents – especially women and parents in Ireland – feel much more stressed than their non-parent colleagues. Parents are slightly more likely (+3 percentage points) to be looking for a new job this year, with 25% of those job seekers citing better flexibility and work-life balance as the primary reason.
- COVID new hires haven’t settled in yet: Despite starting a new job in the middle of the pandemic amidst new recruiting methods, more of these workers describe themselves as highly engaged (44%) than anyone else. However, they also report feeling more overworked, burned out, stressed, and less psychologically safe than their more tenured colleagues. They are also more likely than employees hired pre-COVID (50% vs 33%) to report planning to look for a new job in the next year.
- Employees are willing to come back: HR professionals and recruiters should embrace the trend of boomerang employees – former employees who may have left the company but are willing to bring back what they’ve learned to the organization. Most job-seeking workers (62%) said they would return to a former employer. COVID new hires were more likely than their pre-COVID colleagues to consider a return (69% vs. 56%).
- The future of work should be more diverse, equitable, and inclusive: Seventy-two percent of workers reported DE&I being an important factor in terms of staying at their organization. That number was even higher for Gen Z workers (86%) and Black workers (87%). If they haven’t yet, companies should start devising an action plan.
- Workers want more human workplaces: Sixty-six percent of workers say they would appreciate more opportunities to celebrate personal life events at work, and yet 54% of organizations don’t currently celebrate those events (21% said their company used to celebrate prior to COVID-19). Remote workers employed at companies that commemorate life moments feel more respected (78% vs. 58%) and appreciated (75% vs. 44%) overall than remote workers at companies that do not. Across all ways of working, people feel more connected to colleagues than company culture, which shouldn’t come as a surprise since people are your culture.
- Employers should get into the appreciation business: When people were thanked in the last month, they’re half as likely to be looking for a new job, more than 2x as likely to be highly engaged, more than 2x as likely to feel respected at work, and more than 3x as likely to see a path to grow in the organization. The more recently someone has been thanked by a manager and/or peer, the greater their sense of connection to the company culture and their colleagues.
That impact is especially acute when managers recognize employees daily and when that praise is made public. Witnessing public thanks is associated with less burnout and stress. The more companies can amplify and socialize recognition, the more impact it will have across the organization. Giving praise: good for employees, good for business.
Amidst all these insights is one clear takeaway. Fostering a culture of belonging and taking the time to get to know employees as people with rich lives outside of work starts with putting well-being at the center of your HR strategy.
About the AuthorMore Content by Mike Lovett